Eileen O’Neill Burke would lose $211,000 yearly pension if elected Cook County state’s attorney. Here’s why.

Officeholders can keep taking a public pension if they aren’t working for the branch of government that’s paying that benefit. Seven primary candidates, including O’Neill Burke, are getting retirement pay from past offices.

Democrat Eileen O’Neill Burke as she was about to file petitions in December for the primary race for Cook County state’s attorney.
Democrat Eileen O’Neill Burke as she was about to file petitions in December for the primary race for Cook County state’s attorney. Anthony Vazquez / Chicago Sun-Times
Democrat Eileen O’Neill Burke as she was about to file petitions in December for the primary race for Cook County state’s attorney.
Democrat Eileen O’Neill Burke as she was about to file petitions in December for the primary race for Cook County state’s attorney. Anthony Vazquez / Chicago Sun-Times

Eileen O’Neill Burke would lose $211,000 yearly pension if elected Cook County state’s attorney. Here’s why.

Officeholders can keep taking a public pension if they aren’t working for the branch of government that’s paying that benefit. Seven primary candidates, including O’Neill Burke, are getting retirement pay from past offices.

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Eileen O’Neill Burke has a lot to lose — more than $211,000 a year — if she wins the March 19 Democratic primary race for Cook County state’s attorney and goes on to be elected to lead the office where she once worked.

O’Neill Burke now gets a monthly government pension of $17,633.78 before taxes and insurance costs. That’s based mostly on her years as an Illinois appellate judge but also in part on the decade she was an assistant state’s attorney.

The law doesn’t let officeholders collect pensions based even in part on past work for the same government agency. So O’Neill Burke would have to give up her pension for as long as she’d be in that office.

Bob Fioretti, a former Chicago City Council member who’s running unopposed in the Republican primary for state’s attorney, also now gets a government pension. But he’s in a different situation.

Fioretti’s two terms representing a Near West Side ward helped get him a $96,000-a-year pension. If elected to succeed State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, he wouldn’t have to give that up. That’s because his retirement benefits are for his City Hall service.

O’Neill Burke and Fioretti are among at least seven candidates in the March primary now collecting government pensions for past public service.

Former Ald. Bob Fioretti in December, after submitting his petitions to run for Cook County state’s attorney.
Former Ald. Bob Fioretti in December, after submitting his petitions to run for Cook County state’s attorney. Anthony Vazquez / Chicago Sun-Times

Whoever succeeds Foxx would get a $228,613 yearly salary.

That’s shy of the $234,775.44 O’Neill Burke was making before she stepped down from the bench last summer.

O’Neill Burke faces fellow Democrat Clayton Harris III in the March 19 primary. If O’Neill Burke wins, she would be able to again start taking her pension once she left office.

“If elected, Eileen will not and cannot draw a pension as the Cook County state’s attorney,” her campaign spokesperson says. “She stepped down from her role as an appellate court justice to run for this office because of her strong desire to serve and make the Cook County state’s attorney’s office one of the best and most well-run prosecutor’s offices in the country again.”

A spokesperson for Fioretti says he “will continue to receive any payments he is entitled to receive for his work as a civil servant and private attorney.”

Even if they’re entitled to keep taking a pension, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez says government officials should minimize what they’re getting from public pension funds, which in Illinois are collectively facing billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities.

Martinez is among the officeholders now collecting a government pension. She’s getting $73,559.88 a year for her 17 years in the Illinois Senate, which she left in 2020 when she was elected the county’s $105,000-a-year court record-keeper.

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Iris Martinez.
Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Iris Martinez. Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times

Martinez could pay into the county pension fund, which eventually would mean a bigger pension when she leaves office. But she says she decided against doing so in an effort “to ease the burden on county taxpayers.

“Unlike other elected officials (past and present), I chose to opt out of the county pension because I did not want to collect another pension,” Martinez says in a written statement. “My experience with pension issues in the Illinois General Assembly helped form my personal decision.”

Four members of Congress from Chicago, each paid $174,000 a year, are also collecting government pensions.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., tops that list, collecting a total of almost $65,000 a year from three public pension funds — for his past elected service as a Chicago City Council member, an Illinois lawmaker and a Cook County commissioner. Garcia’s campaign and congressional office didn’t return messages seeking comment.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., also collects from three pension funds — altogether $41,027.52 a year. That’s for past government jobs as Matteson’s community affairs director, state representative, chief of staff to then-Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and chief administrative officer for Cook County government.

Kelly’s spokesperson says she “has always complied with all financial disclosure requirements and will continue to do so.”

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., gets a $34,302.24 year pension for her years as a state representative. A Schakowsky spokesperson wouldn’t comment.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., takes a $27,213.48 yearly pension for his years as a Cook County commissioner. He couldn’t be reached.

All four representatives also will be eligible for congressional pensions after leaving office in addition to the other government pensions they already are collecting.

Contributing: Justin Myers